One of the world’s biggest cleaning companies is embroiled in a worker exploitation scandal at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where cleaners have been allegedly underpaid tens of thousands of dollars.
Cleaning giant ISS is accused of being an accessory to the illegal underpayment of migrants and international students employed to clean the MCG after sports events.
Investigations by the workplace watchdog found cleaners from India, the Philippines, Columbia and Brazil were allegedly paid as low as $18 an hour and were denied casual loading and penalty rates.
Most work was at night, on weekends and public holidays – times that attract penalty rates and entitled them to $46 an hour for some shifts.
The Fair Work Ombudsman inquired extensively into ISS and First Group, the subcontractor that directly employed the underpaid MCG cleaners.
It has launched proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court against the two companies and several executives, including three Victorian managers of ISS.
After a surprise site visit at the 2014 preliminary final between Hawthorn and Port Adelaide, Fair Work inspectors found 11 cleaners at the MCG had been allegedly ripped off more than $37,000 during that football season.
Individual underpayments ranged from $276 to $7272, court documents claim.
In its writ, the Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that ISS knew the subcontract price it paid First Group was insufficient for the company to pay its workers minimum legal entitlements. ISS was also said to be explicitly aware of First Group’s exploitative practices but failed to take action.
ISS holds a contract with the MCC to provide a range of cleaning services at the ground. The company had subcontracted First Group for some post-event cleaning.
A former First Group cleaner told Fairfax Media the company recruited overseas workers and students, most of whom were unaware of their workplace rights.
“Being new here in Australia, we did not know anything, like that working on late nights or on weekends meant we deserved higher pay,” said the man, who did not want to be named.
“And it wasn’t easy work … we finished very, very late, picking up all the rubbish.”
The case is the latest to draw attention to unscrupulous subcontracting practices in Australia and the exploitation of foreign workers.
A string of similar wage abuses was exposed last year within the fresh produce supply chains of Woolworths and Coles supermarkets, and at national convenience store chain 7-Eleven.
ISS Facility Services said on Thursday that it prided itself as an ethical employer and was treating the ombudsman’s allegations seriously. The company has dumped its contract with First Group for the cleaning of the MCG.
“When first notified of the potential issue, ISS took immediate action, including directly employing all those cleaners that were affected by the subcontracting arrangement,” a company spokeswoman said.
The MCC said it had checks in place to ensure contractors complied with workplace law, but would take action if wrongdoing was uncovered.
“If there is evidence that a contractor is not meeting its obligations, we will investigate the matter and act accordingly,” a spokesman said.
Cleaners’ union United Voice said the legal action against ISS, one of the world’s largest private employers, should be a warning to others that use outsourcing.
“This tells the big companies that they cannot put their heads in the sand and blame the little guys further down the chain,” state secretary Jess Walsh said.
United Voice raised the alarm over MCG underpayment claims in 2014. The union’s own investigation estimated cleaners were owed $500,000 for a four-year period.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the agency was determined to build a “culture of compliance” from the top of Australian supply chains.
“We are committed to scrutinising supply chains and subcontracting arrangements and holding companies accountable for business practices that undermine compliance,” Ms James said.
First Group could not be contacted. The case will go to court for a directions hearing next month.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mcg-cleaners-exploited-in-wage-rort-scandal-20160106-gm0dep.html